“From Trashed To Treasured”

Posted on Tuesday, October 29, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Alton Layman and Seth Layne

What can be found in a dumpster? About 12 years ago, my brother was working in Chattanooga and while throwing some trash out, he noticed a box in a dumpster. The box was filled with what looked to be old books. He and I had always loved old books and we would usually look for old copyrights when we had the opportunity at flea markets or yard sales.

In the box that day, he found several items that belonged to a United States Serviceman, A.A. Lyman. Knowing that the items bore historical significance, and that I was a huge history buff, he gave them to me. The items found were a 1940 Blue Jacket’s Manual, 2 sets of licenses from the Merchant Marines, and a Continuous Discharge Book. All of the items had Lyman’s name on them.

I treasured these items. I would look at them from time to time and admire everything that they were. The Blue Jacket’s Manual was essentially the textbook for new seaman. It taught new recruits the basics of conduct, hygiene and procedures, as well as weapon systems, knot tying, first aid, and how to fight while swimming in water. The two licenses were also pretty impressive pieces of work. I could see from the dates that Albie Alton Lyman had been in the service for a very long time. One document was from 1958 and another was from 1983.

The final piece was my favorite. It was his Continuous Discharge Book. Upon opening its green cover, I saw a black and white picture of the man, his left thumbprint, his height, weight, address, and the date that he signed his signature to the book, January 5, 1945. Turning the pages would reveal line after line and page after page of the names of the vessels that carried him, whether the trip was foreign or “coastwise,” his rank while on board, the date he departed on the vessel, and the date he returned.

For the next twelve years, A.A. Lyman would make journey after journey, both foreign and domestic, for the United States. The life and career of a man that I would never know was suddenly very real to me. For several years I enjoyed my collection. I would show them to my History classes at Tracy City Elementary, friends, relatives, and other history buffs. Everyone was impressed and everyone loved them. It was an honor for me to hold such a cool piece of history in my hand. They were some of my most treasured things.

About 5 years ago, I started to look for ways to get them to someone that would appreciate them as much as I. At first I looked for family. I exhausted the Internet of ideas. Searching for family brought nothing. I contacted the National Archives and nothing. I contacted the Coast Guard, the Navy, and I looked on Ancestry.com and nothing. I just wanted to find somewhere to send these great pieces of history. Every source yielded very little help. I finally gave up the search, tucked the things away for safekeeping, and went on my way.

A few years passed, and I chose to revisit my attempt to find someone to take the articles to. Last year I contacted the History Department at the University of Towson in Maryland. Lyman was born in Towson, so I figured that perhaps someone there may know of a museum or local historical society that would be interested. Again, every attempt made resulted in failure or a different direction to go to find an answer. Disheartened again, I stopped the search. I had resolved to just keep them and continue to enjoy what I had.

Monday, October 21 was not a special day. It was downright ordinary. Nothing interesting happened, nothing crazy, nothing remotely remarkable. My wife and I lay in bed that night waiting to doze off. My nightly tradition is to usually peruse the Internet of useless information to pass the time. It came across my mind to look again for information about Lyman. I started looking. I searched and searched. I looked up every name combination I could think of for Albie Alton Lyman. I searched a good 45 minutes until I found a phone number to a residence in Dayton, Tennessee. The website said that Martha Lyman was 89 and Alton Lyman was 86. Realizing that this could be the big break I was looking for, I bookmarked the page and went to bed.

The next day I completely forgot about the previous night’s discovery. While sitting at lunch, a little girl said something that reminded me of it. I went to my classroom as quickly as I could, found the number, and called. After the phone rang several times, an elderly lady picked up the phone. Her name was Martha Lyman. My heart pounded with excitement as I told her who I was and why I was calling. She told me that she and her husband, Alton, had been looking for the items for several years. She was blown away. She couldn’t believe, and neither could I, that this was really happening. They had never intended for any of his things to be thrown away. We talked for quite a while and decided to arrange a meeting so that I could give Mr. Lyman his belongings.

I hung up the phone and I was on cloud 9. I had thought the search was hopeless, and then all of a sudden it was resolved. I had never imagined that Mr. Lyman would still be alive. I quickly told the story to everyone. Everyone at work was amazed. It thrilled me to be able to share it. I felt so honored to be a part of something so unique and improbable.

As the days came closer to deliver the goods to Mr. Lyman, I became more and more curious of the name of one of the vessels that he was on. The first boat he was on was the Rockhill Victory.  I knew that I had heard that name before but I couldn’t place it. I began to research the vessel. The Rockhill Victory was delivered to port on May 5, 1945. This was Alton Lyman’s first day on the boat and the boat’s first day on duty. Lyman was 18 years old when he became part of the crew. Less than a year into Lyman’s service, in mid-December, the Rockhill made a journey to Marseille, France to pick up soldiers to bring home. Looking in Lyman’s Continuous Discharge Book, I could see that he was on the vessel at the time of its departure to France. Before the Rockill Victory could load up its cargo of 1543 men, it was accidentally rammed by a cargo ship.

The incident caused a gaping hole, about 20 feet square, in the side of Rockhill. The hole was filled and patched with concrete. One first-hand account from a soldier on the Rockhill said, “Don’t these Frenchies know how to weld metal onto metal?” The terrible journey home lasted two weeks, 13 days of which, was in violent storms. The journey home was riddled with fractured bones, bruises, a broken mast that crushed several lifeboats, and a broken steel girder. The ship’s master, Captain N.D. Scull, said that the troops were, “the sickest bunch of men I have seen in three voyages as a troop transport commander.” (from Normandy to the Bulge: An American Infantry GI in Europe During World War II By Richard D. Courtney)

The Rockhill Victory brought home 1543 troops, including Canon Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Company Third Battalion, and companies G, H, I, K, and L of the 104th Infantry Regiment; Anti-Tank Company and Cannon Company, and the 328th Infantry Regiment.

Albie Alton Lyman, Jr. was a part of the crew that brought some of our bravest back home. He was just an 18-year old boy that had less than a year’s experience. At the age of 18, it’s rare to see anyone with the maturity of an adult, but Albie Alton Lyman, Jr., no matter how ready he was, traveled halfway around the world to bring his fellow Patriots home.

Today we traveled to Dayton, TN and delivered Mr. Lyman his things. I got to listen to him tell story after story about his adventures in the Navy and the Merchant Marines. His wonderful wife Martha was also full of stories. Their journey is even more interesting when you consider that they have been married only 26 years. She is 89 and he is 86. She had been married 3 times previously, all of which ended when each of her husbands died of a heart attack. She was 26 when she was married to her first husband. He died suddenly just 3 months into their marriage. Mr. Lyman had also experienced hardship. His first wife battled cancer for 16 years before passing away. This entire process has been one from a storybook – unlikely, to impossible, to incredible. I feel very fortunate, blessed, and honored to have been a part of it.

The Lymans will be joining us as honored guests at our Veteran’s Day assembly on November 11 at Tracy City Elementary.






Headlines of the Day